HGH Side Effects
In the past two decades, HGH use for performance enhancement and anti-aging has exploded. Since aging is associated with declining growth hormone secretion, some individuals have hypothesized that these undesirable effects may partially be due to the decline in HGH production. Naturally, this assertion has spurred considerable interest in administering supplemental human growth hormone as a “treatment” for aging in humans. Although HGH is FDA approved for certain medical conditions, it is not approved for anti-aging. Additionally, studies involving growth hormone therapy (GH therapy) in older men have shown significant HGH side effects. These HGH side effects include the following.1-15
- Carpel tunnel syndrome
- Joint pain
- Impaired glucose tolerance
Detailed descriptions of these HGH side effects are provided below. In addition to these side effects, other major concerns exist with GH therapy in men without growth hormone deficiency. These concerns include the following: 1) The limited scale of studies and lack of convincing positive health outcomes, and 2) the unknown long-term link between HGH therapy and cancer or other diseases. (See Main Concerns with HGH Therapy)
HGH Side Effects: Extended Discussion
- Edema – Edema is one of the most common HGH side effects. Edema is soft tissue swelling caused by fluid retention. It is one of the most commonly recorded HGH side effects. Nearly 50% of study participants experienced some level of edema.1,3-15 It should be noted that the occurrence of edema appears to be dose-dependent. Higher doses cause more fluid retention. Therefore, edema may be partially relieved with lower, more conservative replacement doses that are spread out more evenly throughout the week.13
- Carpal Tunnel Syndrome – Carpal tunnel syndrome is caused by pressure on the median nerve that provides movement and sensation to hand. It causes numbness, tingling, weakness, or muscle damage in the hand and fingers. Carpal tunnel syndrome occurred in approximately 20% of study participants.1,3-15
- Joint Pain – Joint pain is another one of common adverse HGH side effects. About 20% of study participants experienced joint pain during GH therapy. Like edema, joint pain commonly occurs in the arms (elbows and wrists) and legs (hips, knees, and ankles).1,3-15
- Gynecomastia – Gynecomastia, male breast enlargement due to an increase in breast tissue, is one of the less common HGH side effects. Nevertheless, it is one of the more unappealing side effects. Gynecomastia occured in roughly 5% of study participants.1,3-15 (See EMG’s Gynecomastia Article for more info).
- Impaired Glucose Tolerance – Perhaps the most concerning of HGH side effects is impaired glucose tolerance. This impaired glucose tolerance has the potential to develop into outright diabetes with time. Relatively few studies report on glucose tolerance. Therefore, current evidence is inadequate to form a consensus on HGH’s impact on glucose tolerance. In the studies that did report on glucose tolerance, approximately 20% of study participants experienced impaired glucose tolerance.3-15
Why does HGH impair glucose tolerance? HGH tends to cause hyperinsulinemia, a state of elevated blood insulin levels. Elevated blood insulin levels may lead to insulin resistance and subsequently diabetes. Therefore, it is not surprising that HGH therapy may impair glucose tolerance. However, the beneficial effects of HGH, including increased lean muscle and decreased abdominal fat, may result in the restoration of insulin sensitivity to pre-treatment levels.6,17,18 Long-term studies will be needed to better determine the HGH side effects on insulin levels and glucose tolerance.
In addition to these known HGH side effects, additional, albeit unproved potential concerns exist. These concerns relate to HGH’s possible stimulation of benign or malignant tissue growth. Put simply, the long-term link between HGH therapy and cancer or other diseases is unknown. As a result, GH therapy is not approved, nor recommended for aging.
1. Liu H, Bravata DM, Olkin I, et al. Systematic review: the safety and efficacy of growth hormone in the healthy elderly. Ann Intern Med. Jan 2007; 146 (2): 104-115.
2. Consensus: critical evaluation of the safety of recombinant human growth hormone administration: statement from the Growth Hormone Research Society. J. Clin. Endocrinol. 2001; 86: 1868-1870.
3. Blackman MR, Sorkin JD, Münzer T, et al. Growth hormone and sex steroid administration in healthy aged women and men: a randomized controlled trial. JAMA. Nov 2002; 288 (18): 2282-2292.
4. Christmas C, O’Connor KG, Harman SM, et al. Growth hormone and sex steroid effects on bone metabolism and bone mineral density in healthy aged women and men. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. Jan 2002; 57 (1): M12-18.
5. Hennessey JV, Chromiak JA, DellaVentura S, et al. Growth hormone administration and exercise effects on muscle fiber type and diameter in moderately frail older people. J Am Geriatr Soc. Jul 2001; 49 (7): 852-858.
6. Johannsson G, Mårin P, Lönn L, et al. Growth hormone treatment of abdominally obese men reduces abdominal fat mass, improves glucose and lipoprotein metabolism, and reduces diastolic blood pressure. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. Mar 1997; 82 (3): 727-734.
7. Svensson J, Bengtsson BA, Taskinen MR, Wiklund O, Johannsson G. A nine-month, placebo-controlled study of the effects of growth hormone treatment on lipoproteins and LDL size in abdominally obese men. Growth Horm IGF Res. Jun 2000; 10 (3): 118-126.
8. Karlsson C, Stenlöf K, Johannsson G, et al. Effects of growth hormone treatment on the leptin system and on energy expenditure in abdominally obese men. Eur J Endocrinol. Apr 1998; 138 (4): 408-414.
9. Jürgens G, Lange KH, Reuther L, Rasmussen BB, Brøsen K, Christensen HR. Effect of growth hormone on hepatic cytochrome P450 activity in healthy elderly men. Clin Pharmacol Ther. Mar 2002;71(3):162-168.
10. Lange KH, Isaksson F, Rasmussen MH, Juul A, Bülow J, Kjaer M. GH administration and discontinuation in healthy elderly men: effects on body composition, GH-related serum markers, resting heart rate and resting oxygen uptake. Clin Endocrinol (Oxf). Jul 2001; 55 (1): 77-86.
11. Lange KH, Andersen JL, Beyer N, et al. GH administration changes myosin heavy chain isoforms in skeletal muscle but does not augment muscle strength or hypertrophy, either alone or combined with resistance exercise training in healthy elderly men. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. Feb 2002; 87 (2): 513-523.
12. Rudman D, Feller AG, Nagraj HS, et al. Effects of human growth hormone in men over 60 years old. N Engl J Med. Jul 1990; 323 (1): 1-6.
13. Cohn L, Feller AG, Draper MW, Rudman IW, Rudman D. Carpal tunnel syndrome and gynaecomastia during growth hormone treatment of elderly men with low circulating IGF-I concentrations. Clin Endocrinol (Oxf). Oct 1993; 39 (4): 417-425.
14. Rudman D, Feller AG, Cohn L, Shetty KR, Rudman IW, Draper MW. Effects of human growth hormone on body composition in elderly men. Horm Res. 1991; 36 Suppl 1: 73-81.
15. Yuen K, Wareham N, Frystyk J, et al. Short-term low-dose growth hormone administration in subjects with impaired glucose tolerance and the metabolic syndrome: effects on beta-cell function and post-load glucose tolerance. Eur J Endocrinol. Jul 2004; 151( 1): 39-45.
16. Cook DM. Shouldn’t adults with growth hormone deficiency be offered growth hormone replacement therapy? Ann Intern Med. Aug 2002; 137 (3): 197-201.
17. Rosenfalck AM, Fisker S, Hilsted J, et al. The effect of the deterioration of insulin sensitivity on beta-cell function in growth-hormone-deficient adults following 4-month growth hormone replacement therapy. Growth Horm IGF Res. Apr 1999; 9 (2): 96-105.
18. Johnston DG, Al-Shoumer KA, Chrisoulidou A, Kousta E, Beshyah S, Robinson S. Long-term effects of growth hormone therapy on intermediary metabolism and insulin sensitivity in hypopituitary adults. J Endocrinol Invest. 1999; 22 (5 Suppl): 37-40.